Mariners Prospect Injured In Venezuela

February 16, 2015

Pitchers and catchers report for Mariners spring training on Friday, and the big topic of conversation will certainly be pitching prospect Victor Sanchez.

Reports from Venezuela say that Sanchez was the victim of a boating accident in his native country, and he is in critical condition following surgery to repair a fractured skull.

Details are sparse right now. The Mariners are still gathering information and have not released a statement, while both the Seattle Times and The News Tribune are relying on reports from the same Venezuelan news source.

Sanchez, who just turned 20, is a right-handed starting pitcher who played last year for the Double-A Jackson affiliate. He was on last week’s list of potential starting pitchers for the 2015 Tacoma Rainiers.

We wish Sanchez the best, and a speedy recovery.

For the latest updates, the Seattle Times has been updating this post, and The News Tribune is covering the story on its Mariners blog. There are also a few more details in this report from SB Nation.

Links:

  • The last former Tacoma Tigers player active in the major leagues has retired. Jason Giambi played for the Tacoma in 1994, which was the last year of the Tigers and the Oakland A’s affiliation. He had a very long MLB career before announcing his retirement today.
  • Bob Dutton of The News Tribune posted a Mariners Top Ten Prospects list with a feature on anticipated Rainiers jack-of-all-trades Patrick Kivlehan.
  • Dutton also previewed the Mariners starting rotation heading into spring training.
  • Rickie Weeks told the Seattle Times that he is ready to learn to play some new positions.
  • Former major league C.J. Nitkowski explains the process of signing a minor league contract with a spring training invitation. Lots of details in here.
  • Tim Kurkjian has a terrific story on former Rainiers outfielder Adam Jones.
  • Something to keep in the back of your mind: the Pan-Am Games are coming in July, and baseball will be played with Team USA composed of minor leaguers who are not on the 40-man roster. Jon Morosi suggests that prospects could be used, but historically Team USA prefers Triple-A veterans (anyone else remember the 2000 Olympics, when the Rainiers had four players selected?).
  • Rob Neyer put together an oral history of the days comedian Bill Murray played for Grays Harbor of the Northwest League.

On Wednesday we’ll have our final positional preview, when we look at the Tacoma Rainiers bullpen candidates.


Mariners Make Two Late Additions

February 13, 2015

We received some surprising news late this week, as the Mariners added two free agents.

First, it was reported that the Mariners have come to terms with major league free agent second baseman Rickie Weeks on a one-year contract. This was a surprise because the Mariners don’t need a second baseman, and Weeks has never played any other position – and in fact chose not to learn to play left field last year for Milwaukee.

Apparently the 32-year-old Weeks has changed his tune, because the M’s are going to play him at many positions if he makes the team.

Weeks did hit well last year in a platoon role, succeeding against left-handed pitchers. It was his first good season since 2011. If he can learn to play first base, there is a chance he could be a valuable platoon partner with Logan Morrison. Ditto for left field and Dustin Ackley.

If Weeks makes the team, he firmly pushes guys like Stefen Romero and Jesus Montero back to Tacoma.

The second move the Mariners made was signing former Cleveland Indians left-handed pitcher Rafael Perez to a minor league contract.

Perez is a depth signing and he’ll probably open the season with Tacoma, as he has not pitched in the majors since 2012. That being said, he’s coming off a terrific year.

In 2014 Perez opened the season with Round Rock and made four relief appearances before jumping to the Mexican League. It was in Mexico where Perez was given the opportunity to start games – something he had not done since 2007. Perez had a nice run in Mexico and returned to the states for the end of the season – where he dealt for Triple-A Indianapolis, posting a 1.77 ERA in ten appearances (eight starts) covering 56 innings.

Perez then pitched in the Dominican Winter League, where he continued to have success as a starter. He even tossed 5.1 shutout innings against Cuba in the Caribbean Series.

I’m not sure if the Mariners are considering Perez as a starter or a reliever for Tacoma – and it’s likely they haven’t decided yet, either. All 338 of his major league appearances have been as a reliever (career ERA: 3.64), but he put himself back on the map as a starter in the past 12 months.

Links:

Have a great weekend while pondering this: spring training starts next week!


Tacoma Starting Rotation Candidates

February 11, 2015

Today we turn our look at the possible 2015 Tacoma Rainiers opening day roster to the starting pitchers.

The top spot should be pretty easy to figure out. The Seattle Mariners have six candidates for their five-man starting rotation, so whoever draws the short straw is going to be optioned to Tacoma and will likely be the Rainiers opening day starter.

The Mariners locks appear to be Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ. That leaves Roenis Elias and Taijuan Walker battling it out for the No. 5 spot.

As you know, injuries often hit starting pitchers and can strike at any time – including during spring training. That’s why the Mariners are going to camp with six starters!

Hopefully there will be no injuries to starting pitchers, and the Rainiers will have either Elias or Walker at the top of the starting rotation. The list of Tacoma starting pitching candidates looks like this:

  • LHP Roenis Elias or RHP Taijuan Walker
  • RHP Jordan Pries
  • LHP Mike Kickham
  • LHP James Gillheeney
  • RHP Sam Gaviglio
  • LHP Tyler Olson
  • RHP Stephen Landazuri
  • RHP Victor Sanchez
  • LHP Danny Hultzen
  • LHP Misael Siverio

Swing-men (can start or relieve): Andrew Carraway, Forrest Snow, Justin Germano.

You will notice that Erasmo Ramirez does not appear on this list. Ramirez is out of minor league options and must make the major league team or else be exposed to waivers. It is my opinion that if Ramirez is placed on waivers, another team will claim him – so I find it highly unlikely that he could get to Tacoma. But, stranger things have happened.

Here’s a quick look at the candidates.

Elias and Walker: this is kind of ridiculous, showing the wealth of young pitching that the Mariners have at the top of the organization. Elias had a 3.85 ERA in 29 major league starts last year – and doesn’t have a job sewn up! Walker is a top-flight prospect who is MLB-ready. Yet barring something unforeseen, one of these guys is going to end up in Triple-A.

Pries was Tacoma’s most reliable starter last year, appearing among the PCL Top-10 in ERA until the last day of the season. It will be interesting to see if he can improve upon his 2014 campaign and turn himself into a viable major league option. The Mariners are bringing him to major league spring training, so they seem curious about this as well.

Kickham was a recent Mariners waiver claim – he has one option year remaining. Kickham was in Fresno’s starting rotation for the last two years (he was 8-8, 4.43 in 27 starts last year). Kickham has good strikeout rates and decent stuff from the left side.

Gillheeney made 23 starts for Tacoma last year and went 3-11, 5.62. OK, that’s not very good, but he pitched quite well in the Mexican Winter League and his stuff intrigues some opposing-team scouts I speak with.

Gaviglio is the player the Mariners received when they traded Rainiers infielder Ty Kelly to St. Louis. He’s a sinkerballer out of Oregon State who had a 4.28 ERA in 24 starts at Double-A Springfield last year, with 126 strikeouts in 136 innings. Mariners scouts must have filed positive reports on him prior to the trade – like Pries, he received a non-roster invitation to major league camp.

Olson was the Mariners 7th round draft pick in 2013 out of Gonzaga, and he’s already knocking on the Triple-A door. At Double-A Jackson last year he went 10-7, 3.52 in 22 starts. He tossed 125 innings and had 100 strikeouts with only 25 walks. Olson is a southpaw.

Landazuri was the hottest starter at Double-A Jackson in April last year, and it seemed he was on the verge of an early season promotion to Tacoma when he strained an oblique. He missed two months and returned in late June, finishing the year with a 6-5, 4.33 mark (he was not as effective after the injury). Landazuri was drafted in 2010 out of high school and he just turned 23 last month.

Sanchez is a young right-hander who is often mistaken for a brick wall. He pitched the entire 2014 season in Double-A at the age of 19 – making him one of the youngest players at that level. He performed pretty well, too: Sanchez went 7-6, 4.19 in 23 starts, lasting 124.2 innings with 97 strikeouts and 34 walks. Sanchez is short and massive: he’s most recently been listed at 6-foot, 255 pounds. Did I mention he’s 19?

Hultzen is the mystery man. You know him, you know his story… last report is that he’ll go to spring training healthy and with no restrictions. When I talked to Player Development Director Chris Gwynn last month, he made it sound like the organization is taking a wait-and-see approach on Hultzen during spring training. If he breaks camp in the Tacoma rotation, that would be a huge positive for everyone.

Siverio is even more of a mystery than Hultzen. He’s a Cuban defector the Mariners signed in November, he’s supposedly 25-years-old, and from what I’m hearing he may be Triple-A ready. And for now, that’s all I know. This is a player I will actively search out to try to watch during my spring training trip in late March.

In conclusion, the Mariners have a good amount of starting pitching depth at the Triple-A level. However, only one prospective Rainiers starter has MLB experience, and that will be the loser of the Mariners No. 5 battle (although swingman Justin Germano has lots of MLB experience).

It’s foolish to even hazard a guess at the Rainiers rotation right now, given the inevitable spring training sore arms. But this list should at least be something to work with for now.

Links:

  • As he prepares to spend seven weeks in sunny Arizona, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times previewed the Mariners first base situation – which was interesting. His preview of the second baseman was exactly what you think it is.
  • Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that 2014 Rainiers reliever Todd Coffey signed with the Atlanta Braves. Minor league deal; presumably with a major league spring training invitation.
  • Interesting story from the Boston Globe suggesting the gap between Triple-A and MLB is wider than it used to be (warning: lots of stats!). I think they key is the bullpens: in MLB most teams have six or seven relievers blowing 95+. In Triple-A, it’s unusual to see a team with more than one of those guys.
  • Julio Franco will be a player-manager for a minor league team in Japan. He’s 56. One of my favorite things in this sport is Julio Franco’s Baseball Reference page.
  • Congratulations to the Los Angeles Angels, who have set a new standard in the World’s Ugliest Free Hat contest.

M’s Place Two On BP’s Top 101

February 9, 2015

Baseball Prospectus released its Top 101 Prospects list today, and the Seattle Mariners have two players who made the cut.

Third baseman and likely 2015 Rainiers member D.J. Peterson is ranked No. 62, and teenage outfielder Alex Jackson is listed at No. 68.

A quick glance at the Top 10 shows that the Rainiers will face some elite prospects in the PCL this season.

The Rainiers visit the Iowa Cubs May 21-24, and they should have No. 2 Addison Russell and possibly (but unlikely) No. 5 Kris Bryant with them.

Russell – a shortstop – was formerly in the A’s organization and made a memorable-for-all-of-the-wrong-reasons Triple-A debut at Cheney Stadium on the final weekend of the 2013 season. He was only 19 years old and he got chewed up by the Rainiers pitching staff, going 1-for-13 with nine strikeouts. I remember wondering how this guy could be considered a big prospect, but apparently he’s improved dramatically since then.

Also in BP’s Top 10 is Astros shortstop Carlos Correa at No. 3, who could see Triple-A time with Fresno later this season if things go well for him. Fresno visits Tacoma twice this year: April 30-May 3, and July 24-27.

Kyle Seager‘s little brother Corey Seager is ranked the No. 7 prospect, and he should see some time with the Dodgers new Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City this year. I’m hoping he’s with them when Tacoma visits Bricktown in August, because it would be fun to interview him and ask him about growing up with Kyle.

Checking in at No. 9 on the list is a guy the Rainiers have already faced several times: Mets prospect Noah Syndergaard. “Thor” will probably start the season with Las Vegas once again – and the Rainiers could be stuck facing him a lot, just like last year. Syndergaard made four starts against Tacoma in 2014 going 2-0 with a 3.13 ERA, and he struck out 29 Rainiers in 23 innings. We’ve seen enough – hopefully he’ll make the Mets rotation.

Looking at Tacoma’s opening homestand, top prospects on El Paso (Padres) and Albuquerque (Rockies) could include BP’s No. 23 Austin Hedges & No. 53 Matt Wisler (El Paso) and No. 11 Jonathan Gray & No. 64 Eddie Butler (Albuquerque). Three of those four are starting pitchers, so that could pose an interesting challenge for the Rainiers.

Spring training is little a bit closer and I actually found some baseball stories over the weekend – so here ya’ go!

Links:

New post coming Wednesday, which will look at the 2015 Tacoma Rainiers starting pitcher candidates.


2015 Rainiers Outfield Outlook

February 4, 2015

We continue our spring training preview series today by looking at the players who might make up the Rainiers outfield come opening day.

This is a tough position to preview. I nearly titled this post “Veteran Signings Confuse Tacoma Outfield Outlook” or something like that.

The Seattle Mariners recently signed longtime major league veterans Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez to minor league contracts, inviting them to big league spring training. Both players will be trying to win a job as the Mariners fifth outfielder – a competition that will be intense during spring training, if it exists at all.

There is no guarantee that the Mariners are going to carry a fifth outfielder (the four locks are Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson, Seth Smith, and Justin Ruggiano). Since designated hitter Nelson Cruz can play outfield if needed, he could serve as your fifth outfielder and that’s that.

If there is no opening on the Mariners roster, then you have all of these guys slated for Tacoma:

Endy Chavez – a true professional who is respected by teammates and coaches alike, Endy has opened each of the last two seasons with Tacoma before getting called to Seattle when injuries have occurred. Both seasons he remained with the Mariners for the duration. Endy turns 37-years-old on Saturday and he just finished a highly successful stint in the Venezuelan Winter League.

Franklin Gutierrez – a former Mariners star, Gutierrez has suffered a series of rare injuries and illnesses which kept him off the field. Gutierrez did not play in 2014 in an attempt to get truly healthy, and the Mariners decided to bring him to training camp and see how he looks. Nobody knows what to expect here – this will be something to follow once camp opens.

Stefen Romero – the new Smith/Ruggiano platoon really hurt Romero’s chance to make the Mariners opening day roster, though he could still see ample time in Seattle this year. If he ends up in Tacoma, we’ll take him – he’s too good for Triple-A. Last year he played in 35 games for the Rainiers and batted .358 with 12 home runs, for cripes sake. If he doesn’t make the Mariners, Romero will bat third or fourth in the Rainiers lineup.

Romero is in a tough spot. His own career would benefit from being with a poor MLB team – one that could start him everyday in left field while he makes adjustments and learns to hit major league pitching. It doesn’t look like the Mariners will be in a position to do that this year.

James Jones – speed, speed, speed! Jones was a revelation as a basestealer for Seattle last year, going 27-for-28 as a rookie thief. That is a weapon managers love to have on the bench. Jones does have options, however, and he can be shuttled between Seattle and Tacoma all year if needed. He’s played in only 37 career Triple-A games.

Julio Morban – the left-handed hitter remains on the Mariners 40-man roster after a disappointing 2014 season – but one should put an asterisk next to ‘disappointing.’ Morban was recovering from a severely broken leg and never really looked right – he hit .242 in 29 games for Tacoma. The 2015 season is a key year for him.

Patrick Kivlehan – we talked about him a lot in our corner infielder preview two weeks ago, when I wrote that he could see a lot of time in the outfield.

Leon Landry – after two seasons in Double-A (and a big improvement in year two), Landry appears ready for Triple-A. He is a true centerfielder and I’ve heard he might be the best defensively of this group (depending on how Gutierrez looks). Last year at Jackson he hit .280 with 21 doubles, nine triples, and two homers in 108 games. He also stole 25 bases, but he only drew 19 walks all season and his OBP was just .315.

Jabari Blash – the power prospect from the Virgin Islands appears to be buried on the depth chart right now, but’s he’s got big-time pop. He could open the season in either AA or AAA, depending on how the rosters break down.

Other outfielders to know: even I had forgotten that Ji-Man Choi played 26 games in the outfield for Tacoma last year… Daniel Paolini had an 811 OPS for Jackson last year as a first baseman and sometimes corner outfielder… Dario Pizzano hit just .228 for Jackson, but he drew a ton of walks for a .341 OBP and slugged .404… Jamal Austin is a speedster who hit .262 and was 19-for-22 stealing bases for Jackson last year – but he walks even less frequently than Landry.

The Rainiers will probably have four or five outfielders on opening day. Good thing we “narrowed it down” to twelve!

Links:

Our next post will probably come Monday, and our next position preview will look at the starting pitchers on Wednesday.


2 1/2 Weeks

February 3, 2015

Tough weekend, eh? Certainly not what I expected out of Super Bowl Sunday. And now we have to wait 17 more days before Spring Training starts.

Getting to baseball, for older Tacoma fans let’s take a moment to remember a longtime opponent in the visiting dugout.

Rocky Bridges passed away in Coeur d’Alene at the age of 87. While he’s mostly known for his long career as a back-up infielder in the major leagues, he later became one of the longest-running Pacific Coast League managers of the modern era.

Bridges managed 12 full seasons in the PCL – mostly with the San Francisco Giants affiliate. He managed the Hawaii Islanders in 1972 and part of 1973 before starting his nine-year term piloting the Phoenix Giants from 1974 through 1982. Bridges returned for one last year in the PCL in 1987, with Vancouver. He won one PCL Championship – in 1977, with Phoenix.

All of this occurred well before my time in the PCL, but if you happen to bump into Stan Naccarato around town I bet he has some Rocky Bridges stories – Bridges was known for having a steady stream of one-liners, and was the favorite manager of many players.

We’ll get back to the upcoming season on Wednesday, when we take a look at the 2015 Tacoma outfield situation. Lots of uncertainty in this group.

Links:


More Mariners Prospect Lists

January 30, 2015

Two of the highly-regarded prospect analysts released Mariners prospects lists in the last 24 hours, and we’ve got some conflicting viewpoints.

ESPN’s Keith Law had his entire annual prospect package released this week, with a national Top-100 list and team-by-team Top Tens.

Keith put two Mariners in his Top 100: he has Alex Jackson ranked No. 59, and D.J. Peterson is No. 61.

Since Peterson is likely to play for the Rainiers this season, let’s copy Law’s write-up on him (note: the reports are for ESPN Insider subscribers, but I contacted Keith and he granted permission to share his Peterson report).

Peterson just missed my top 100 last year, moving up to the middle of the list this offseason thanks to a strong debut campaign that saw him perform well at two levels despite a series of nagging injuries. This says nothing of the broken jaw that ended his 2013 campaign; Peterson showed no ill effects from that injury. (It was caused by a 96 mph fastball, and he never flinched or bailed out on inside pitches thereafter.) He’s more of a pure hitter than a power guy but can get a little homer-happy and lose some of his knack for making hard contact. He has dropped his load further down toward his rear hip since college, which gives him a little more loft through contact but also puts him on top of the ball too often. I’d rather see him keep his hands a little higher and hit more line drives, even at the cost of five homers per year.

He’s played more third base than first in pro ball, but first is his ultimate position. He can be a high-average, 15-20-homer hitter or a lower average, 20-25-homer hitter. The latter would make him more of an average regular, but the former gives him a chance to be a full grade higher.

Here are Law’s Top 10 Mariners prospects:

1. Alex Jackson, RF
2. D.J. Peterson, 1B/3B
3. Austin Wilson, RF
4. Ketel Marte, IF
5. Gabriel Guerrero, RF
6. Luiz Gohara, LHP
7. Edwin Diaz, RHP
8. Tyler Marlette, C
9. Patrick Kivlehan, 1B
10. Gareth Morgan, OF

Meanwhile, Baseball Prospectus released their Seattle Mariners Top-10 list today, and it looks a bit different:

  1. 1B/3B D.J. Peterson
  2. RF Alex Jackson
  3. 2B/SS Ketel Marte
  4. RF Gabriel Guerrero
  5. RHP Edwin Diaz
  6. C Tyler Marlette
  7. LHP Luiz Gohara
  8. RHP Victor Sanchez
  9. RHP Carson Smith
  10. OF Austin Wilson

The big difference – other than the flip-flop up top – is the vastly different opinion on Class-A outfielder Austin Wilson. Law ranked him No. 3, and BP stuck him at the end.

Law placed 2014 second-round pick Gareth Morgan in at No. 10, while BP decided to keep Victor Sanchez in theirs – noting in the scouting report (link below) that Sanchez has a strong chance of being a back-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues.

Patrick Kivlehan also generated different opinions: Law likes him enough for a No. 9 slot, while BP lists him as a “factor on the farm” saying that he could end up being a bench player in the majors.

It’s interesting to see the different opinions, but it is important to remember that is exactly what they are: opinions.

Links:

Have a wonderful Super Bowl Weekend, you guys.


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